Sunday, April 21, 2024

INTERESTING FOLKS: Kevin Duffy Steps Out of Politics After Nearly 20 Years in Service to Hardwick

Hardwick Town Hall, 40 Spring Valley Road. Photo by P. Avery

After 19 years as a member of the Hardwick Township Committee (10 of those years as mayor) Kevin Duffy decided it was time to retire and move on to the next chapter.

He is believed to be the longest serving committeeman and mayor in the long history of Hardwick.

“After serving for almost 20 years, it was time for me to step aside,” said Duffy. “I feel the town is in very good hands now with Chris Jacksic as mayor and Nicole Meuse as deputy mayor as they share the same core values of maintaining Hardwick’s rural character, managing township finances effectively and minimizing municipal tax increases.”

As background, the Duffy family moved to Hardwick from Liberty Township in 1984. He and his wife Christine, who is the secretary treasurer of the Water Gap Singers, have been married 52 years.

He has an undergraduate degree in political science and first became involved in local government in 1997 when he was appointed to the Hardwick Board of Adjustment. In 2000, he was appointed to the Hardwick Planning Board and in 2003 was asked to run for Township Committee. After winning the primary and general election in 2004, he was sworn in for his first committee term.

Over the course of those 19 years, there were a number of challenges in the form of major hurricanes and storms that resulted in extended power outages and road closures.

“I was always grateful for the dedicated efforts of the other members of the committee, the township clerk and road department, Hardwick’s Office of Emergency Management and Warren County officials,” he said.

Duffy indicated that COVID was the greatest challenge municipal officials have had to face.

“When the outbreak first started in March of 2020, no one really knew with certainty what was happening and how to respond,” Duffy explained. “In those early days, the Warren County mayors met virtually with the commissioners and Warren County Health Department seven days a week to share information and determine what steps needed to be taken.”

The frequency of the meetings was gradually reduced.

“The Warren County commissioners and health department really stepped up and provided critical support and guidance during those very challenging days and for that I will always be grateful.”

He added that with the federal dollars Hardwick received, the Office of Emergency Management purchased masks and sanitizers that were offered to Hardwick residents and distributed to the camps in town.

Forested Trail at Hardwick’s Slabtown Creek Park. Photo by MB Journe. Jan/2023

“I think most of us chose to live in Hardwick because of the natural beauty of the area and have seen the impact of overdevelopment in other towns,” Duffy said. “To that end, since 2004, thanks to the efforts of the Hardwick Open Space Committee and Land Use Board, we were able to put over 900 acres into preservation.”

One of those acquisitions resulted in the creation of Slabtown Creek Park located at 16 Spring Valley Road. The park is a beautiful location and offers hiking trails, benches and a large meadow for picnics and passive recreation.

Vass Farmstead off Route 521 (Stillwater Road). Photo by MB Journe, Jan/ 2023

Another accomplishment while Duffy was in office was the township taking over the lease for the Vass property across from White Lake. He worked for over two years with Committeeman John Lovell and the state of New Jersey to transfer the lease from the Hardwick Historic Society so the town now manages the site with input from the society.

The property will now be able to be used to generate revenue to maintain the property and support a variety of events. In October of 2022, Hardwick Day was held there and was a great success.

While Hardwick is the largest land mass town in Warren County, it also has the smallest population.

“Managing township finances was top priority as Hardwick has no commercial rateables, meaning the tax base is primarily residential,” he explained.

Over the years, to keep costs down, Hardwick has entered into shared service agreements with neighboring towns, such as volunteer fire department coverage provided by Blairstown and Stillwater, shared clerk and tax collector agreements with Blairstown and emergency service coverage on Route 80 with Knowlton. He noted that Hardwick is in a strong financial position and he expects that situation will continue.

The rock outcropping over the eastbound lanes of I-80.
The rock outcropping over the east bound lanes of I-80. The state Department of Transportation is working on updated proposals to mitigate the hazards of falling rocks. Former Hardwick Mayor Duffy and former Knowlton Mayor Starrs spearheaded municipal opposition to the Route 80 Wall Project because of projected long term gridlock in local communities. Photo by Joe Phalon

As mayor, Duffy partnered with Knowlton Mayor Adele Starrs to oppose the NJDOT proposed Route 80 Rock Wall Project which they deemed unnecessary, a waste of tax dollars and to potentially create serious traffic problems on local roads in Warren County and in neighboring small towns in Pennsylvania.

A more recent accomplishment was also the upgrading of the phone/internet system at town hall.

“Before I left office, I wanted to update/replace the town website and thanks to the contributions of Judy Fisher and committee members Jodi Butler and John Lovell, we were able to do that in December of 2022,” he said.

Reflecting on the past 19 years, Duffy remarked on how quickly time passed.

“It’s hard to comprehend that about 25 years have gone by since I first became involved as a member of the Board of Adjustment,” he remarked. “During that time, I’ve had opportunities to work with a great number of individuals at the federal, state and local levels on a variety of issues. We may not have always agreed but we worked together to get the job done.”

Duffy noted the importance of Hardwick residents who have volunteered their time to serve on boards and committees.

“In a small town, the spirit of volunteerism is critical and here in Hardwick, we’ve been very fortunate to have a number of individuals who have that give-back mentality,” Duffy said. “I want to thank them all for their contributions, support and friendship over the years.”

Duffy also wanted to thank the residents of Hardwick for electing him seven times to represent them.

“It has been a privilege to serve and I will always be grateful for their support and the many memories this experience has provided.”

Yelens Choban
MB Journe, Contributing Writer
Contributing Writer

MB has been a resident of Frelinghuysen for the past 22 years. She lives in an old farmhouse on the side of the road. She enjoys the simple life, puttering in her flower garden, practicing Qi Gong under her redbud tree, or creating art on the deck.
MB's experience as a journalist began when her son was quite young, she began writing for The Paulinskill Valley Chronicle, often bringing him to work with her. Her responsibilities were writing articles with photos, selling ads, and billing. This suited her, as a single mother not wanting to be separated from her small child.

She considers herself a lover of nature, often seen photographing its beauty. She has worked as a seasonal employee of YMCA Camp Mason for the past 17 years. She is a teacher and mentor of children, always emphasizing the YMCA’s core values - caring, honesty, respect and responsibility. She tries to listen carefully to each individual she interviews, getting their viewpoint. That is why she likes to write about the interesting people and places that make Warren County such a nice place to live.